Zack & Nick's Culture Cast

Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!

New Feature: What Went Wrong?

Failure has always been more appealing to me than success. When a film succeeds, it’s all well and good, but it can also be kind of boring. When a film fails, or even bombs, I find it so much more interesting. In this brand-new feature I will be exploring why certain films failed at the box office. I may feature up to three movies at a time, or just write extensively about one movie. I plan to make this a regular feature here at The Culture Cast, so I do hope you will enjoy it.

Battleship (2012)

Released only a few short weeks ago, Battleship has managed to do less than 50 million at the domestic box office. Though it has grossed over 200 million worldwide, Battleship still looks to be a massive write-off for Universal on par with Disney’s John Carter (which I’m sure will be covered soon enough). After the enormous success of the Transformers movies (another Hasbro property), Battleship was poised to do humongous numbers, but fizzled out spectacularly. So, what exactly went wrong? Battleship seemed to be two parts Transformers and one part Pearl Harbor, only without Michael Bay (and Jerry Bruckheimer and Steven Spielberg and any interesting premise whatsoever). Turns out, it just ended up looking extremely generic.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to the success of Battleship was that no one asked for this movie in the first place. Ostensibly based upon, but not resembling whatsoever, the classic children’s board game, Battleship seems like a movie created in an executive’s office by studio heads who *think* they know what the public wants, but who are very rarely correct (and when they are correct, it’s usually by sheer circumstance). Though Nick might cringe at this statement, Battleship was really something the fans (if they even exist in the first place) didn’t want. It didn’t help that the studio hired director-for-hire Peter Berg to make the film. Berg has absolutely no style as a director, adding to the film’s perceived blandness.

Marketing for Battleship was also disastrous. Universal seemed to go out of its way to feature Rihanna, a pop star more known for her awful music and dancing than her acting, in the film’s trailers and ads. Taylor Kitsch is the star of Battleship, but even Liam Neeson seemed to draw more screen time in commercials (and he only worked on the film for something like four days). Lastly, an hilarious Subway restaurant advertisement for the film attempted to buoy Battleship by proclaiming that the movie itself “has battleships” in it just in case the title wasn’t clear enough.

Green Lantern (2011)

What began as a film project for Kevin Smith (seriously) in 1997 finally came to theaters in what was then the far off year of 2011. The end product probably should have just been scrapped in the Clinton era. A woefully miscast Ryan Reynolds (and he actually drew positive notices for his performance) stars as Green Lantern Hal Jordan, fighting across the galaxy as a member of an elite group of space cops. While the Green Lantern comics have long been heralded as some of the best DC has to offer, the movie earned atrocious reviews and was absolutely devastated in the box office. So, what exactly went wrong? Green Lantern seemed doomed from the start. After Smith passed on the project, it languished in development hell for about ten years. At that point, Warner Bros. decided it would attempt to include all manner of Green Lantern mythos into the movie, ending up with a jumbled mess of a film that just did not work in a narrative sense.

Streamlining Green Lantern may have saved the film. Instead of attempting to bring in an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach, Warner Bros. probably should have stuck with the Geoff Johns mid-2000s Lantern stories as the basis for the film. A great trilogy could have easily been lifted from these works, culminating perhaps in an ambitious Blackest Night movie that would also potentially serve as DC’s answer to Marvel’s hugely successful The Avengers. But it was not to be.

An initial trailer for the film, released in November 2010, was met with absolute scorn on the internet. Warner later admitted the film wasn’t ready for such a showing (special effects were still incomplete at that time). The studio sank an additional nine million dollars into an already bloated budget of over 200 million in order to enhance the effects even further. The glut of complaints about Green Lantern, however, lay with the script. Almost universally described as “paper-thin,” Green Lantern’s story still managed to make almost zero sense in the eyes of critics. Ryan Reynolds, Geoffrey Rush, and Mark Strong (all actors received positive notices for their roles, especially Strong), were left out in the cold, and Warner took a huge loss on the project. Not even the international markets could stomach Green Lantern.

The Dilemma (2011)

After a somewhat extended break from the silver screen, Vince Vaughn seemed primed to return with the 2011 winter comedy release The Dilemma. Boasting a fine pedigree in director Ron Howard and an excellent supporting cast featuring a red-hot Kevin James (coming off a few megahits of his own), Queen Latifah, Channing Tatum, and Jennifer Connelly, The Dilemma had the potential to be a potent comedy hit. So, what exactly went wrong? For starters, marketing for this film suffered a huge blow when Vaughn made what many perceived to be an anti-gay remark in the trailer. Universal relented to a public outcry, removing the “joke” from the film’s trailer.

The damage had been done, however, as it turns out that not all publicity is good publicity. The Dilemma flopped at the box office, grossing only 48 million dollars domestically on a budget of 70 million. It was Kevin James’ first big disappointment at the box office since his ascent to the A-list. It was an obvious misfire for Vaughn, too, as his brand of comedy seemed to be seen as out-of-style when the film failed. Ron Howard, who had not helmed a hit comedy in over a decade at that point (and who has actually had quite a shoddy filmography recently) took yet another box office blow.

The Dilemma attempted to straddle the line between quirky, slap-stick humor and dark humor, and was soundly rejected by audiences. Few movies featuring primarily dark humor succeed at the box office, and The Dilemma was not an exception to this rule. Though the supporting cast was well-received, the movie’s inability to decide what it wanted to be as well as its disastrous marketing campaign ultimately cost it the box office highs of previous Vaughn, James, and Howard films.


9 responses to “New Feature: What Went Wrong?

  1. Nick! May 29, 2012 at 6:26 pm

    Great feature idea! While I don’t normally like the use of the phrase “audiences didn’t want it”, in many ways, it completely fits Battleship. At least, I don’t think people wanted that for a Battleship movie. Seriously, wouldn’t a film with navel warfare have been interesting enough? Did it really need aliens to make the movie work?

    In other news, after a couple of intense weeks, I have a copious amount of free time in the coming soon. First order of business: My long awaited Green Lantern breakdown.

  2. Ben May 31, 2012 at 10:22 am

    I agree with most of what you said about Green Lantern except the “Miscast Ryan Reynolds.” I think an actor like Ryan Reynolds is perfect for that kind of character, a cocky, arrogant pilot who has to learn a lesson in humility. Shame they messed the rest of the film up though because there was loads of potential in it.

    • CultureCast-Z May 31, 2012 at 5:24 pm

      Reynolds did earn some positive notices for his performance. There was definitely a load of potential in a Green Lantern movie. Such a shame they screwed it up and will probably not try again.

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